After one thousand, eight hundred and fifty five days, Kendrick made his anticipated return for his final TDE curtain call. In the opening lines of his long awaited album, he sets the tone of his project by telling us that he’s been going through something – which explains the silence.
Years have passed and at long last, Kendrick released his fifth studio album which ultimately could be the most important record of his career as he executes the most complex theme there is: himself.
He’s never been one to evade from reality and all the dilemmas that come with it. Over a decade ago, Kendrick introduced himself to the world as a natural novelist on his debut album Section 80. From then on he stayed consistent in creating cinematic albums in all respects. Mr Morale & The Big Stepper was the ideal finish to a successful imprint under TDE, it played like closure.
The west coast rapper delves deep into the personal issues he’s been holding onto for the last 34 years. He’s known to be his own self critic but never before has he released such a brutal and raw record that displays the best and worst versions of himself. It’s as candid as it could get it. Kendrick opens up about going to therapy, confronting his generational trauma, and his self-imposed struggles of ego and traditional masculinity. At first listen, the album can be difficult to hear at times, listening to what sounds like one’s survival mode but the challenge he leaves the listener is to see past the tough-exterior that so many rappers portray. Other than the obvious themes of self-awareness that plays throughout, Kendrick touches base on societal issues like ‘cancel culture’, toxic social status, and homophobia. “Auntie Dairies” may be one of the most noble songs on the album, it just might be the most important rap song ever written. It tells the story of his transgender family members, where he talks fluidly about his evolution of being a queer and trans ally. A topic that is shunned in the streets of Compton. Much of the album is breaking down social barriers.
Naturally, the expectation was that the rapper who gave us songs like “Alright” or “Sing About Me, Im Dying of Thirst” would return with something that we could hold on to. During Kendrick’s hiatus, we grew to be survivors in a world that seemed to be ever-changing. We became pawns in history as we watched the world fight through catastrophic wildfires, police brutality, the rise and fall of The Trump Administration, and a global pandemic. A time where we would’ve expected to hear from Kendrick, but didn’t. “Sorry I didn’t save the world” he says on the final song of the album, giving us years of reflection where he can finally say that he is in-fact just a troubled kid from Compton, not a saviour.
In the world of hip-hop, most rappers hold onto their craft for as long as possible, the refusal to step down is evident. Whilst most hip-hop artists continue to crave the crown as ‘the best in the game’, K.dot displays a message of contentment, as if he’s happy to walk away from it all. I guess if he did want to hang up his boots, now would be the time to do it.
The two-part album comes to a close with the rapper finally telling us, “I choose me, I’m sorry”. He knows that this may not be the album that was wanted or expected and that they may not play these songs at the protest, but this was a literate masterpiece that needed to be made and exactly what we needed to hear. All in all, Mr Morale & The Big Steppers is an unfeigned and ferocious move from the artist himself. This was his final manifesto and a standing ovation is required here.